by Phil Freeman
photo by Izalia Roncallo
Tenor saxophonist David S. Ware died October 18, at 62, of complications from kidney disease. He’d suffered from it for many years, receiving a kidney transplant in 2009.
I don’t want to simply recite the facts and figures of Ware’s astonishing career. There are literally dozens of albums you need to hear if you’re at all interested in his music, from his long-running David S. Ware Quartet (pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, and a string of drummers: Marc Edwards, Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra and finally Guillermo Brown; check out Flight of i, Third Ear Recitation, Go See the World, Surrendered, and Live in the World first, then all the others) to a trio he formed later, with Parker and drummer Warren Smith (two albums, Shakti – on which guitarist Joe Morris is also present – and Onecept), to the two albums by his most recent band, Planetary Unknown, with pianist Cooper-Moore, Parker on bass again, and Muhammad Ali on drums. The guy was a titan, with an unmistakable sound and a unique compositional style, a focused intensity and a rigorous discipline on the horn – no matter how long one of his solos might have gone, it never seemed like a single note was wasted or haphazardly chosen. The best tribute you can offer is to go listen to his music.
Ware was a big guy, and although he was incredibly nice, he was always a little bit intimidating. I interviewed him a few times, by phone and in person. The first time, he picked me up at the train station in his Ford Mustang and drove me back to his house at somewhat terrifying speed. I returned another day, accompanied by my wife, who took the photo above. Every time we talked, I was nervous beforehand, even when just approaching him to say hello at a gig. I don’t know why, but there was something about his intensity and looming physical presence that kept me at a distance in a way I have never felt with the other members of his bands, many of whom I know. Shipp and Parker are men I consider friends, and when I’m around them there’s a casualness that obliterates the usual invisible barricade between writer and musician, but with Ware, that breach never quite occurred.
I was also in the studio with Ware twice – once during the sessions for his second and final album for Sony/Columbia, 2000′s Surrendered (I got to watch them record “Peace Celestial,” the album’s opening cut, and a version of a Beatles song that wound up being discarded), and again when they were making the slightly more experimental Corridors & Parallels, on which Shipp played electronic keyboards for the first time. On both occasions, he seemed deep in thought at all times, even as other members of the ensemble laughed and joked; he kept to himself, offering one- or two-sentence opinions between takes, but there were no negotiations. It was his music, and it was going to be made his way.
When I interviewed Ware for the Village Voice in 2007, after the quartet had been disbanded and a recording of their final US performance released as Renunciation, he said of his place in the New York scene, “I don’t even think about that. You guys figure that out. It’s not for me to ponder. I don’t follow the scene anyway. I didn’t hang out in New York even when I was living in New York [in the 1970s]. It’s just not me.”
There’s not a whole lot of Ware’s music on Spotify, but I’ve put together a playlist that runs about four hours – it includes tracks from Go See the World, Surrendered, Live in the World, BalladWare, and Threads, an album he made with a string ensemble that approaches Alice Coltrane territory, as well as some tracks from the two records he made as a member of Andrew Cyrille‘s Maono quartet, Metamusicians’ Stomp and Special People, and Dark to Themselves, his one recorded appearance with Cecil Taylor. Enjoy.